You could be forgiven for assuming that the supertitled introduction in the trailer for Hanna—“Once upon a time there was a very special girl who lived in the woods with her father”—was just a conceit of the marketing, but you would be wrong. The odd, dark thriller is packed with fairy tale motifs and themes, from the cottage deep in the woods, to the evil “stepmother,” to the feral predator stalking the naïve young girl. The visuals compound the effect (I’m only surprised that the heroine didn’t at some point don a red hoodie), eventually arriving—quite literally—at the supposed birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, with a closing image so audacious and evocative that I could only shake my head and grin.
The thing is, upon reflection, I’m not entirely sure what to make of Hanna, not completely convinced that all the once-upon-a-timing adds up to much beyond arty window dressing. But director Joe Wright has a lushly kinetic visual style, and the cast is terrifically game for the deranged little fairy tale. Hanna might not live up to whatever Grimm reinvention/deconstruction Wright was attempting, but it’s still a nervy art-pulp trip.
Saoirse Ronan stars as Hanna, a self-possessed teenage girl raised in isolation in the northernmost reaches of Finland. Her father, Erik (Eric Bana), has taught her to hunt and kill; to speak conversational English, German, Italian, Arabic, and no doubt a dozen other languages; and to rattle off encyclopedic trivia on every topic imaginable. Erik tells Hanna that these preparations are necessary because, when she leaves home, she will be hunted by ruthless CIA agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett, sporting a thick “Southern” accent for some reason). Hanna decides she is ready and essentially summons Wiegler, but she isn’t as successful as she thinks she is in dispatching her mortal enemy, and before long, Hanna—not to mention the road-tripping British family led by Rachel (Olivia Williams) with whom she’s hitched a ride—is being pursued across northern Africa and Europe by Wiegler’s creepy black-ops henchman Isaacs (Tom Hollander).
This all plays out a bit like one of the globe-trotting Bourne movies with a teenage girl stepping in for Matt Damon—which sounds considerably more unsettling than it ends up feeling. Ronan is so good at projecting physical prowess and equanimity that she never seems unfairly outmatched, and there’s a real beauty in the fluidity and grace of her movements. The only times Hanna ever seems truly vulnerable are when she attempts to navigate relationships with other people, clearly a challenge for someone with such a sheltered upbringing. (Substitute quasi-Amish innocence for Bourne’s amnesia, and you get the idea.)
Even then, though, she’s a quick study. Hanna actually isn’t particularly interested in the sociological implications of its girl-raised-in-the-wilderness scenario, dispensing with that sort of thing rather quickly in favor of Little Miss Assassin’s identity crisis upon uncovering her true origins. The predictability there is disappointing, but Ronan sells it well, bringing notes of poignancy even to the trite story line.
The real fun, however, is in the direction. Wright uses the Chemical Brothers’ unconventional score to great effect, letting the pulsing electronic beats drive the rhythm of the action. The camera floats weightlessly as it tracks Hanna’s movements, and the lighting gives an unseemly angelic quality to the girl’s pale blue eyes, light blond hair, and (ahem) snow-white skin as she beats back her attackers with her bare hands. I still think Hanna could have done more with its myth-tinged material—and the talented Ronan certainly could have handled more depth—but with Ronan gliding so elegantly through the storybook pulp, Wright’s bizarre Grimm-Bourne hybrid is, perhaps, more compelling that it has any right to be.